The Hidden World of the Tank Room

The Natural History Museum

The tank room at the Natural History Museum houses many of the Museum's 20 million wet specimens stored in alcohol. Take a 360-degree tour with Senior Curator of Fish, Oliver Crimmen, and view highlight images of this strange and spectacular collection space. 

Experience a 360-degree tour of the tank room with Senior Curator of Fish, Oliver Crimmen.

On desktop, drag the screen to change the perspective. To experience the space in virtual reality, put your smartphone into a Google Cardboard viewer.

Inside the tank room, the 8.62-metre-long giant squid Architheitus dux is surrounded by shelving stacked high with jars of animal specimens preserved in alcohol.

This is one of the only wet specimen collection spaces in the world where the collection is stored on full display.

Archie the 8.62-metre-long giant squid is housed in a custom-built tank in the centre of the tank room.

When it was offered to the Museum, the specimen was a challenge to preserve and house, but it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Most other known remains of giant squid are fragments washed up on beaches or found in the stomach contents of sperm whales.

The specimen was caught alive and immediately frozen, which meant that DNA samples could be taken before decay set in. In 2013, these samples helped prove that there is just one species of giant squid, Architeuthis dux.

A deep-sea anglerfish preserved in alcohol.

With such a swollen stomach, the anglerfish has intrigued researchers since it was caught near the Cape Verde islands in 1999 and brought into the Natural History Museum’s collection.

It is a very rare specimen - one of only 17 discovered - so scientists have been reluctant to cut it open to investigate.

To solve the mystery, Museum scientists and imaging experts used micro-CT scanning to create a 3D model of the fish.

The clarity of the image allowed curator James Maclaine to confirm that the unlucky victim, doubled over inside the anglerfish’s elastic stomach, is a softskin slickhead, Rouleina attrita, almost twice the length of its predator.

Fishes and other animals collected by Charles Darwin on the voyage of HMS Beagle are kept in a locked case.

Many of these are type specimens - the specimens originally used to identify and describe new species - indicated by the jars with yellow tops.

Oliver Crimmen, the Museum's Senior Curator of Fish, handles a monkfish in a large storage tank brimming with specimens preserved in alcohol.

A species of pelagic octopus - Argonauta argo, the Latin species name for the greater argonaut - preserved in alcohol.

Various reptile species preserved in alcohol.

Jars of specimens stored in alcohol.

A snake specimen stored in alcohol.

A species of cephalopod, or marine mollusc, stored in alcohol.

A species of fish stored in alcohol.

Various species preserved in alcohol.

Various fishes preserved in alcohol.

The type specimen of the ocean whitefish, Latilus princeps, collected by Charles Darwin on the voyage of HMS Beagle.

Darwin's handwriting can be seen on the darker label in the centre.

A species of mammal preserved in alcohol.

A tuna, Thunnini sp. stored in a large tank in the centre of the room.

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Experience the tank room for yourself on your visit to the Museum on a behind-the-scenes spirit collection tour.

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